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10 walks in the woods to brighten your autumn

All change! The trees are turning from green to gorgeous gold – and the best places to see them are these beautiful gardens, woods and arboretums in Devon.

Hotel Endsleigh, Milton Abbot

Yes, it’s one of Devon’s best hotels (thank you Olga Polizzi) and a posh place to take afternoon tea in the library but Hotel Endsleigh also lays claim to being a 200-year-old Humphry Repton garden, with a stunning shell folly, an arboretum, historical champion trees and beautiful rushing waterfalls and dells. Go for tea and a wander or if you want to really get under the garden’s skin, book a tour with the head gardener, Ben Ruscombe-King, who is charming and a green-fingered Everest of horticultural know-how. £50pp.

Hembury Fort, Payhembury, nr Honiton

One for pre-history buffs – this Neolithic Iron Age hill fort in the Blackdown Hills is an atmospheric meander, only recently rediscovered and now a scheduled monument being cared for by a special management team. The root-gnarled ancient trees are fascinating, and the views across the rolling fields an added bonus. In spring it’s bluebell heaven but go now for turning leaves and interesting historical interpretation thrown in. Access is via public footpath off the A373.

Yarner Woods, East Devon Nature Reserve, Bovey Tracey

A great walk with kids in tow, with huge ancient oaks to see and the Yarner Wood Reserve Base for leaflets about the various trails. There are cool sculptures, and plenty of benches and loos too. Afterwards, head over to Ullacombe Farm Shop for a seasonal cream too (book first) or stop off at the Muddy-approved and multi-award winning Home Farm Cafe, open for drinks and homemade cakes.

RHS Rosemoor, Great Torrington

Expert inspo for anyone who thinks their garden looks boring in autumn, with gorgeous grasses, flaming acers in the Stone Garden, woodsy atmos in their Upper Woodland Walk and a fruit and veg garden reaping the harvest. For kids, there’s a week-long Autumn Carnival, with a garden trail and crafting, culminating in a Halloween Disco on Saturday. RHS members and under 5s go free and they’ve got 25% off if you join now.

Stone Lane Gardens, Chagford, Dartmoor National Park

More people should know about this hidden gem of a woodland garden, home to a graceful five-acre collection of white-barked birch and alder trees which turn butter-yellow in autumn. The gardens are open all year round but this week is your last chance to see their annual Sculpture Exhibition, a showcase for West Country artists all magically displayed among the trees, which closes on Sunday 31 October.

Trenchford and Tottiford Reservoirs, Bovey Tracey, Dartmoor, 3 miles, easy to moderate

Watery reflections and the fact there’s a hidden Stone Age settlement beneath the still waters (discovered by Channel 4’s Time Team, no less) gives this reservoir walk extra edge. Muddy likes to get back in the car and drive over to The Cleave at Lustleigh, a traditional thatched pub with a covered garden (also dog-friendly) for a bevy or a slap-up roast.

Lukesland Gardens, near Ivybridge

Pic credit: Lukesland/Lucien Harris

Another one which deserves to better known, Lukesland’s 24 acres always remind me of a Scottish glen, well worth a visit in autumn for the eye-popping sight of hundreds of rhodos and azaleas turning flame-coloured. It’s family owned by Lorna and John and very family and dog-friendly, with a cafe serving homemade cakes (inc gluten-free) and scrummy pumpkin soup. Openings are restricted to Wednesday and Sunday, so don’t miss out – your last chance for a nosey this year is Sun 14 November.

The Dartmoor Way, Teign Valley, nr Chagford, Dartmoor

Dartmoor is full of mystery and magic and here’s a place I have to share with you. This riverside walk takes you via mossy oaks and stunning tor and moorland views to ‘Passage’, a whimsical granite sculpture carved by Peter Randall Page (above). Park at Castle Drogo and follow the River Teign towards Chagford (about an hour or so). If you want a shortcut, park on the road by the Mill End Hotel and meander 15 minutes along the riverside (with the hotel on your left). The sculpture is just beyond the weir, and before the wooden gate, on a small island in the middle of the water.

The Garden House, Buckland Monachorum

This 10-acre plot is a total treasure, full of smaller compartmentalised gardens where you can pick up ideas for your borders. It’s known for its spring snowdrops but there’s much colour to see now, including an Acer Glade you should catch before the tinted leaves get washed away by the rain. If you want to get little ‘uns out and off their screens, they’re running an Autumn Trail with autumn goodies and pumpkins to find. Post-walk hot choc and cake in their excellent cafe obligatory.

Avon Valley Woods, Avon Valley

Pic credit: Woodland Trust

Actually four Woodland Trust woods made up of Woodleigh Wood, Aveton Wood, Centry Wood and Watkins Wood, all burnished with great autumn colour now. Ancient and semi-natural, with parts taking you along the River Avon, it’s stuffed with local wildlife – you might even see a kingfisher swooping along the water. The fab Avon Mill Garden Centre at Loddiswell makes a must-see nearby pitstop with its cafe and surprisingly good shopping too – lots of interesting indie crafts.

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